After a lengthy delay thanks to some technical difficulties, the weekly mailbag is here.
In this week’s edition, we tackle realignment, whether Byron Mullens and Cole Aldrich will ever pan out, what’s up with Thabo Sefolosha, whether the Thunder can win the Northwest Division and where OKC could finish in the standings.
As always, join the discussion next time if you’d like.
Is the Northwest Division there for the taking if Melo is traded? – Nax.
The division crown is the Thunder’s to lose, no matter what happens with Melo. The Thunder currently has a 3 1/2 game lead, and if it can’t hold off Denver or Utah that has to be considered a disappointment. There is plenty of time left and anything can happen, especially with the Thunder still having to face the Blazers, Nuggets and Jazz a combined five times. Those five games could be the difference. But it shouldn’t come down to that and here’s why: 19 of the Thunder’s final 32 games are against teams currently below .500. The Thunder is 18-4 against sub-.500 teams and has developed a knack for winning close games. Even if the Thunder runs into a rough patch, I don’t see Denver or Utah coming up with enough consistency to climb ahead of the Thunder.
I was impressed with Daequan’s D. By impressed I mean that he was actually trying to play D, which is more than can be said for other Thunder players. – Rich.
Nothing inspires like a half a season sitting the bench. But I agree with you. Cook has busted his butt on the defensive end when given the opportunity to play. The results aren’t always pretty. But he’s a shooter, not a defender. If defense is mostly about effort, though, Cook has got that part down. I’m not willing to go as far as saying the others don’t try. They haven’t sustained their effort for a full game. But there have been moments when the entire team has come to play defensively.
Will the NBA restructure the divisions in near future? – Didoff
I haven’t heard anything like that. I reported when the NBA’s board of governors approved the franchise’s move to OKC that the league had no intention of realigning. As far as I know, nothing has changed. Keep an eye on the Hornets and Kings. If one or both of those teams relocate, the league might have to consider realigning. But even then, I don’t think the NBA wants to get into the business of reshuffling divisions each time a team relocates (which has become the fallback plan for every floundering franchise). If no team moves, I think it’s a safe bet that the divisions will remain intact. But that opinion is coming from a guy who thinks the current setup is fine the way it is.
DM! What’s your beef with Monta Ellis? Give the man some love. – @ShadeTreeGambler
I see you’ve brought our Twitter beef to the mailbag. Nice! But I don’t have a problem with Monta, except he’s a chucker who plays on a bad team that runs a fast-paced offense and pays little attention to defense. Other than that, I think he’s a splendid player. I love watching him put the ball in the hole. He’s one of the best pure scorers in the league in my eyes. But the coaches got it right. As I said on Twitter, Ellis had no business even being mentioned as an All-Star ahead of Russell Westbrook. : )
Why doesn’t KD use fakes that much? He can draw more fouls that way instead of shooting contested shots. Do you get a chance to see different things these guys work on in scrimmages that they don’t show in real games? What has caught your eye? – Kamal.
Rarely is KD’s shot contested. His height, length, elevation and quick and high release essentially make most of his shots good looks. I’ve never really asked around or put much thought into why Durant doesn’t use more fakes. But now that you’ve brought it up, I think that’s something that actually could hurt Durant’s game. KD is a rhythm player, much more than most. He’s at his best when he’s catching and shooting. A series of fakes could throw off that rhythm. It could make him go from Kevin Durant to Kevin Martin. Fakes work extremely well for a guy like Martin, who is one of the most efficient scorers in the league. But Martin almost has to rely on fakes because he’s shorter and has a slower and more unorthodox release than Durant. Drawing more fouls is the least of Durant’s concerns. His focus needs to be being stronger with the ball. The majority of practices and scrimmages are closed to the media. Occasionally, I’ll see a player putting in extra work after practice. Most of it is pretty standard shooting drills.
Why doesn’t Scott Brooks just play our best players instead of adjusting to the other team’s personnel? Seems as though Brooks is reacting instead of dictating. It was particularly apparent in the Wizards game when their bigs got in foul trouble. – James.
A lot of coaches do that. It took me a while to understand why as well. But it basically boils down to whether you believe your player can get the better of that night’s mismatch. If you believe he has the upper hand and will be more of a force than a liability, you go with what you have. If there is doubt, you match up. Ultimately, Serge Ibaka, the player who was most affected in that Wizards game, has a much greater chance of getting torched by an odd matchup than he does of having his way. When you look at it like that, I think you have to matchup. The only two players the Thunder has that can dominate against anyone are Durant and Westbrook. Everyone else is a role player. The way I see it, the best way Brooks can dictate is to put his best horses on the floor and make it a track meet. But that’s not going to happen consistently because the Thunder wants to be a defensive team.
Where is Cole Aldrich these days? IR, D League, end of the bench? Having played so long in College, unless he is Hurt, he looks like (another) “Sonics” miss on a big man in the first round. WOW. A LOT the past six years…Swift, Petro, the signing of what’s his name from Dallas a few years ago. ONLY Ibaka working out well…! – Bob in Seattle.
You can’t put Swift, Sene and Petro on the current regime. They had nothing to do with their selections. Let’s give Aldrich and Byron Mullens some time before we write them off as busts. Big men take longer to develop, and both guys are just 22 (Mullens turns 22 next Monday). They’ve got a lot of time to improve and make something out of their careers. Aldrich was recently recalled from the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League. He played well during his stint and has shown that he’s willing to work hard to get better. I wouldn’t count him out just yet. He could prove to be a nice defensive presence in the middle in the next year or two. At the very least, he’s got six more fouls to offer.
I’m watching the Thunder box scores from back here in Columbus, Ohio and it seems Mullens is buried very deep in the bench without much chance of ever developing into a contributing NBA player. I would like to get your take on Mullens’ future with the Thunder and or NBA. Thanks. – Scott.
It’s hard to say since he rarely plays. All I can really go on is the improvement Mullens showed from his first year to his second. He’s looked much better, dating to his first showing of his sophomore season in the Orlando Summer League. He’s become stronger, more confident and has added some more skills. Again, he’s a week shy of his 22nd birthday. I still like him as a prospect. There’s no telling what he can be in five years. If the Thunder gives up on him, I’d bet there are at least a dozen other teams willing to give him a chance. But down here in OKC, Mullens is in a good situation. There is no pressure on him right now to provide anything but an impact on practice court. Meanwhile, he’s learning from some solid veterans (Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic) and a strong coaching staff both with the Thunder (Mark Bryant) and the 66ers (Nate Tibbetts and Dale Osbourne). Be patient and see if it pays off.
It wears me out that so many fans seem to think of James Harden as successful only if he hits his 3′s. But my view has always been that the Thunder took him ahead of Stephen Curry because of the potential Harden has to be a more complete player. How do you feel Harden has performed in the starting role with Thabo sidelined, particularly on defense? – Mike.
Before Sefolosha came back, Harden looked uncomfortable playing alongside the starters. But you really can’t blame him. He’s been a reserve for a year and a half and has been asked to adjust his game to that of a supporting cast member. His defense was, however, encouraging. He had moments where he was easily beaten off the dribble and on backdoor cuts while also being ran ragged on screens. But he always stuck with it. That’s the encouraging thing. Harden has had every reason to gripe but hasn’t. He’s fulfilling his role to the best of his ability and that’s had to be a challenging assignment. I’m not sure if we would be able to say the same if Curry was on this team.
Is it too early to tell how the Thunder will be positioned for the playoffs? – Joe.
Not at all. It’s become pretty clear that the Thunder will be seeded between 3 and 5. The most likely spots are 4 and 5. And I think the first-round matchup will be either Denver or Utah. Both would be highly entertaining matchups. I like the Thunder’s chances more against the Jazz than the Nuggets.
Do you have any read on what’s up with Thabo? Is he injured, or having issues with his teammates? His on-court production has been bad this year, especially the past month or 2. I really thought he was great last year, especially on defense, and to see this kind of dramatic drop-off is a little troubling. And with Harden and Cook outplaying him almost nightly, do you sense that Thabo’s time in the starting lineup is coming to an end? – Peter.
Sefolosha admits he’s not fully recovered. The knee is still uncomfortable, and the bulky brace that he’s been wearing has restricted some of his movements. I think you’re being too hard on him though. He hasn’t been as good as he was last year. But I wouldn’t say that he’s been bad. At least not the majority of the time. One thing I’ve been curious about is how much of his slippage has to do with the overall team’s dip. Everyone looks better when the team defense is locked in. But I doubt we see a chance to the starting lineup anytime this season. Scott Brooks at the midway point of the season all but guaranteed he wouldn’t change the first five. And as long as the Thunder keeps piling up the wins, Brooks doesn’t see a reason to go a different direction.